My daughter is a bright, caring, empathetic, preteen girl. Most days she has a smile on her face that melts her mom’s heart. She is typical preteen, mostly caring about binge-watching shows on Netflix or catching up on her friend’s latest YouTube videos featuring her fave, Beanie Boos. She does well in school, is friendly to everyone, and is respectful of others.
She also has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
When she was diagnosed at age 6, I did everything I could to help her. I got her into a special group at her school, inquired information from her doctor and read up on anything I could get my hands on. I have plenty of experience with adult GAD, but I haven’t a clue on what to do for childhood Anxiety. The school group helped immensely and then she aged out of the program. She was doing well until a major life event occurred in our household. We were fostering-to-adopt but had to give this child back to DCF because of my declining mental health. Her GAD came back full force. This time we sought out therapy. While she got help, so did I for my Depression and Anxiety.
In the last 2 ½ years, my daughter has been doing great with only minor hiccups.
Then we decided to move to give her a better education as she starts Middle School, another major life change.
My husband and I do not hide things from her and she knew from the beginning about the move. She helped us in choosing where we would live (ultimately her input was minor). We wanted her to embrace this change. She was excited as she will be in school with her best friend now. We thought she was handling this well.
And then sleep disturbances set in.
My daughter has always been a good sleeper; I have never experience this before even with her past episodes of GAD. As the moving date approaches, her sleep disturbances have become full fledge episodes of Insomnia and I, as her mother, feel completely helpless. Here I am, a woman who has struggled with Depression and Anxiety for most of my life and I can’t help her. For me, the solution comes in the form of medication that I take nightly. For her, at age 10, there is no medicinal help. At first we tried simple solutions by telling her to read, it will tire her eyes. That didn’t work.
As night 3 was approaching, I became extremely concerned. I could vividly remember what I felt like and how I reacted to night 4 of Insomnia for me. I remember the tears and the strong desire to sleep. I remember the immense amount of thoughts that bounced in and out of my mind. I remember the extreme irritation and delusional thinking I had during the day. I was desperate to give my child relief.
I suggested she use my weighted blanket. She refused.
I suggested mindfulness meditation. She refused.
I suggested my Therapist’s 4-square breathing technique (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, repeat 4 times) which has worked for me a few times. She was hesitant but decided to give it a shot. It didn’t work.
Night 4 brought on the only pseudo-medicinal thing I could try with her… Melatonin. I cut my 3mg pill in half. Nope, still didn’t work. She was in tears. She just wanted to sleep and I completely understood this all too well. I explained that she needed to distract herself, try not to just lay in bed. I suggested reading, writing, journaling, drawing, coloring and lastly, watching stuff on her Kindle (which I set to the night mode that turns off the harming blue light). She slept only 7 hours that night, barely enough for an adult.
Last night, night 5, I finally convinced her to use my weighted blanket. I thought we may have found the solution as all was quiet. Then I heard her come downstairs at 11pm. After about 15 minutes, she returned to her room. This morning she said that she sat crying in her room and eventually fell asleep around midnight. She woke up at 6:10am. 6 hours of sleep.
I don’t know what to do. She is declining rapidly. The recommended amount of sleep for a child her age is 9-12 hours. She has not had anywhere close to this in five days. My sleep is becoming disturbed worrying about her. I do not know how to help her anymore. I am struggling as I feel the sense of blame coming back… she is like this because of me. My GAD worries that she will never sleep again, always jumping to the worst conclusion. I cry for her. I blame myself for her struggles with this illness. I am pondering therapy again, but that isn’t going to fix her problem quickly. How can I help my daughter?
My Sweet Little Boy,
I can hardly believe it has been a little over two years since you left our home. I can still remember your toddler-self walking in circles around the house. I can still hear your voice so vividly as I would come down the stairs in the morning, you pointing at me, saying, “Look, it’s a Mommy!”. I can still feel the soft skin of your cheeks as I would hold your face in my hands right by your dimples and then place my lips on them.
And then I remember what happened next. I never wanted you to be a trigger for me. Countless hours as I would hear you talk yourself to sleep or cough made daggers pierce my heart. It was as if I was falling down, out of an airplane with no parachute, into another episode of Postpartum Depression. First, the severe anxiety that left me emaciated and riddled with shaking and hyperventilating. Many days towards the end, as you sat in the living room watching TV with Sophia, you remained oblivious of the delusions my mind and body played on me. Once you left, Depression set in… Badly.
Oh, my sweet boy, it was never you. You were never the problem. I was. Every day since you left, I wake up with you on my mind. You are also one of my last visions when I go to bed at night. Please know, I never stopped loving you since the moment I met you in August of 2014. I still love you that much now.
And now you are turning 5. I am completely in awe of this. In my eyes you are still this toddler discovering the world. I remember seeing you learn how to eat real food, how to interact with children your age, learning the true meaning of love. You made friends, you experienced holidays, you finally had a family who truly loved you and in return, you learned how to love back. I can only imagine the little boy you’ve turned into, with your tousled dark brown hair and deep sienna eyes. This big boy who will be starting Kindergarten in the fall. I wonder how much taller you’ve grown, if your reading, what you are into.
Everyday my heart yearns to see you, to know you are okay, cared for, loved for certain. And other moments, just when I think I would be okay seeing your face, my heart reminds me of my longing for you, the pain, the ache, the realization that you will never come back to me.
My Tyler, on your 5th birthday, I want you to know how loved you are. I don’t want you to ever feel abandoned. You are still adored by us. You are cherished by your forever family. You are cared for and loved deeply. You will always be special, especially to me. I did not birth you, but in those few months I had the pleasure of interacting with you, you gave me a new view on life and compassion.
Today, we will light 6 candles on a cake for you… five for your age and one more for good luck because Tyler, you deserve all the luck in the world and so much more.
Happy 5th Birthday my boy!
Your Former Foster Mommy
A few days ago I stayed home sick. No, I didn’t actually have a fever, but my nose was constantly draining as if someone forgot to turn the shower off and my body was achy everywhere. I was involuntarily stretching because of these aches and knew that I would accomplish nothing, zero, zilch, nada at work. I was lightheaded and nauseas. From the moment I woke up, I knew I was doomed. I texted my boss and informed him I would be out apologizing because I have a project deadline approaching. I then crawled up the stairs and informed my husband that he would have to drive our daughter to school.
“I’m sick. Can you please drive Sophia to school?” I voiced weakly, “I’m dizzy, achy, and my nose needs to be permanently attached to tissues.”
I should’ve known what his response would be, after all I have been married to the man for over 12 years and with him for over 20, but I was still a bit awe stricken…
“Ugh, do I have to?!” he whined.
I love my husband, really I do. He really is my rock. So many times my Depression and Anxiety have told him to leave, that he would be better off without me. But he never did. He stepped in as primary parent and let me get the help I needed whether in the form of visits to my therapist or psychiatrist, a phone call to my parents or even a couple of hospitalizations. He truly is my best friend and an awesome man with exception to this one thing.
During my hospitalization for Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety 10 years ago, I finally learned I am not Wonder Woman, I cannot do it all. I mean ALL is a considerable amount. The media will have you believe that mothers can do everything. I haven’t met a mother yet that does everything and those that come close usually have large quantities of coffee or wine in hand. Once I arrived home from this hospitalization, I put the phrase, “I need help” to use. I mean, I honestly needed help.
“Jimmy, can you help me with this?” I asked my husband. For awhile, he did (remember, this was a decade ago). Then he would get whiny. Once he started to get whiny, I stopped asking for help. Without asking for help, my Mental Illnesses got worse, but I kept them relatively under control. After all, I was forever in debt to him for being hospitalized and leaving him with a newborn to take care of for 12 days… at least I thought I was. Then, I was hospitalized again and once released, he and my daughter questioned me how they could help me.
Ah, finally, they were asking how they could help, not waiting for me to beg them. This, unfortunately, didn’t last. I was once again asking them for help, not a lot, and I was using “please” and “thank you”. They are the magic words you know. My daughter usually obeyed, but lately, with prepubescence, it is becoming more difficult. My husband…
And we’re back to… “Ugh, do I have to?!”
I tried not to get angry by this response. I was completely drained anyway, but inside I was beginning to boil.
“Yes. Thank you.”
He proceeded to do as asked. I then called him at work around noon, after a nap and forcing some food into me, to make sure he was going to pick her up from school.
“You’re picking Sophia up from school, right?” I inquired.
“What? Me? Why me? You’re home. You pick her up.”
“I’m sick. I’m not leaving the house.”
And once again… “Ugh, do I have to?!”
When this is a response you constantly receive, it makes it hard to ever ask for help.
Then, he added, “What are you making for dinner?”
What?! Yes, I know I am home, but really, I don’t even have a desire to eat. After explaining if he would like his food with snot on it (because, hello, drippy nose), I hoped he would understand that dinner making was not happening from me. That wasn’t the end of it though… somehow he did guilt me into marinating the steaks I wasn’t going to eat. With tissues stuck in both nostrils and my hands lathered in antibacterial gel, I got the steaks marinating.
It didn’t end there. When these two people I love to infinity and beyond arrived home, their understanding of Mommy being unwell left the house. I was constantly needed for something. I don’t understand… the two of them functioned fine when I was away on business a couple of weeks ago. But somehow they can’t understand the idea of me becoming sick. To them, if I am present in the house, I should be able to function at 100%. This, too, was the case 3 years ago when I had the flu. They both couldn’t fathom why I wasn’t cooking and cleaning the whole house since I was home. At that time, I put myself in quarantine… for 3 days all I did was sleep, go to the bathroom, and munch on toast.
And now, the tables are turned.
Hubby left work early 2 days ago feeling icky, deep into a case of the ‘Man Cold’ with the symptoms I had. For those who are questioning what the heck ‘Man Cold’ is, I am pleased to tell you. ‘Man Cold’ is the common cold when it presents itself in male humans. Instead of acknowledging that they have a cold, they think they are dying. They believe their sneezes and coughs are much more than a common everyday germ. They somehow get the idea that this germ, the germ us females have just had, has mutated into a superbug. They will continuously whine about how awful they feel and try to make you believe that they deserve to sit on the sofa and binge watch Star Trek and Mythbusters.
He stayed home yesterday to nurse said ‘Man Cold’ and mainly because school was canceled due to a couple of inches of slushy snow and ice. He questioned why I wasn’t staying home too so I could take care of him and our daughter. I just looked at him oddly. Home all day and he didn’t even salt the walkway, driveway and sidewalk. Made for quite a theatrical performance for me getting to my front door last night after work.
This is the same person that only a few days ago was having me drive my child to school, make dinner, clean, pick up the child from school and wanted to know why I couldn’t go to work. But I don’t whine when he asks for help. Why? Because I am Mommy. I am the caretaker and my heart aches when those that I love are ill. I just want to help them feel better.
I am sure there are men out there that do not act like they are on their death bed, that do not suffer from the dreaded ‘Man Cold’. But, I haven’t met one yet. Anyone who is married or with one of this special men, hold onto them tightly. They are a rare species.
Moms, stand up for a moment. Identify yourselves! We all deserve medals. Scratch the medals. Just bring us coffee, wine, ice cream and leave us with a nice comfy blanket on the sofa binge watching the latest and greatest on Netflix. Oh, wait, is that the baby that just cried out? Is that the toddler whining for Goldfish crackers? Is that the preteen rolling her eyes at me because I said no? Is that my husband screaming about having no toilet paper even though he was told to buy some earlier this week because we were out? And now the cat is kneading her claws into the blanket which in turn is scratching my legs and the dog is running from the sofa to the door deciding if he wants in or out.
Add in a bit of, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” and, “Honey, can you hand me the remote? It’s too far away.” (Really dear, it is 3 feet away from you sitting on the coffee table. Move the damn cat and get it yourself.)
Mothers are the most important figures in a household. Sure, I will give dads credit. They do a lot… well most of them… okay, 50% of them? I know, that might be a stretch. But, it is us Mothers who have to deal 100% with all the Mental Shit that goes on.
A couple of weeks ago, I read the most enlightening article about Mothers and their Invisible Workload called The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down. This article made such and impact on me that I am still thinking about it today. It discusses that although women will work outside the home just as much as men (hubby and I work full time jobs and make about the same give or take 1%), women take on a WHOLE lot more then their male partners. It isn’t that men do nothing. Their share at home tends to be physical (think laundry, dishes, taking out the trash). While us Mothers, aside from doing roughly equal amounts of the physical labor at home, take on all of that Mental Shit. We know when Johnny has little league, when little Sarah has her dentist appointment, and of course, when the dreaded toilet paper has run out. We are the ones who have to buy the milk, even if we don’t drink any, because our husbands forgot they have two arms, two legs and a driver’s license. We are the ones that know where the passports are, the birth certificates, the car titles.
All of this is a HUGE drain on our brains, the brains that were already sucked dry from being pregnant (google pregnancy brain). Ten years later, my brain is still not the same.
We become sick, and are still seen by society, to be workhorses. Have the flu? It doesn’t matter, you have a household to run. Why is that? Why has society taught us that if we are “under-the-weather” to just “suck it up”? Why are our needs so minor? Why is our care not as relevant?
This needs to change. All you Mothers out there standing up, it is time we take back ourselves. I am not saying abandon your family. For sure, you wouldn’t be able to leave the house without a child attached to a leg. It’s time we tell our hubbies, “I need a break. You all are mentally draining me. Please give me a couple of hours, just a couple, to sit and be lazy on the sofa reading a book with a glass of wine (or coffee, tea, hot chocolate).” Don’t back down. Then make sure these couple of hours are truly kid (& hubby) free. Have him take the kid(s) to another part of the house, or heck, out of the house.
Of course, I am a bit hypocritical. I have yet to have this happen in my household of 1 lazy, but loving, husband, 1 moody preteen daughter, and 1 precious and beastly furry child. I started writing a book about two years ago chronicling my struggles with Depression and Anxiety. I asked my husband to take our child to see her grandparents (his parents) once a month giving me the day to write. Two years later… I am still waiting for this to happen. Even tonight, I begged my daughter without giving me a guilt trip, to let Mommy write a blog post. All I needed was 1 hour of quiet time. I was not in my room 5 minutes and she was on my bed showing me drawings she made using pictures of me, her father and the cat, pulling my attention away from writing the post after I spent most of the day cuddling with her on the sofa.
But this changes today. 2017 will be the year I take back myself. The year I recognize I am not just a mother and a wife (and an Architectural Project Manager). I have my own hobbies and interests. I will take my Mommy Time every weekend, a couple of hours each day, and recharge my batteries. I will convince myself that this isn’t selfish, that this is truly necessary to keep this household running. I will do this to deal with the Mental Shit us Mothers deal with all the time.
Because I matter.